Don’t Kowtow to Special Interests on Infrastructure

Joe Nichols Apr 05, 2017

As the old saying goes, “you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone,” and as residents of Flint, Michigan and Sebring, Ohio have learned recently, water infrastructure is a critical aspect of modern life that we too often take for granted. A failing infrastructure can be costly and catastrophic, making it vital that public infrastructure investments follow free-market principles and avoid kowtowing to central planners and special interests.

When governments spend billions of taxpayer dollars to build and refurbish state infrastructure, lobbyists for special interests will invariably try to game the system and seek favors from planners and policymakers. Too often such favors involve limiting the freedom and flexibility for local communities, engineers, and construction contractors to make the right decisions to satisfy their neighborhood’s infrastructure needs or picking “winners” and “losers” in the marketplace by favoring one material over another.

Adhering to a free-market approach—rather than listening to central planning lobbyists—means that engineers and local utilities will be able to design specs that will work for their communities. For example, under a free-market approach, local officials most familiar with and responsible for local conditions and water infrastructure should allow local engineers and contractors to select the best piping materials from a truly competitive market.  Not all piping materials are best-suited to every environment.  So, leave it to local engineers and taxpayers—not state planners and lobbyists—to decide which pipe materials are right for the project. If local officials and engineers make poor decisions or impose bad policies, their constituents can voice their concerns and hold those officials accountable at the ballot box.

No state-level policy should substitute the undisclosed agenda of special interests for the knowledge and accountability of local officials and engineers, and the budget and preferences of local taxpayers.

For more of Buckeye’s take on state vs. local government control, see our work on Ohio’s byzantine municipal income tax policy, state funding for local spending, and local government consolidation.